I remember one day shortly before I left my old job, my boss went ballistic on a phone call because I was going to be participating in a sales presentation for the first time. I’d been the development lead on the project and knew it forwards and backwards, but he wasn’t convinced I could do it. I wasn’t on the call where the explosion occurred, but according to those who were he said something along the lines of “She CAN’T SELL. She’s NOT QUALIFIED.” I remember how confused I was. How could he know I couldn’t do it if he’d never even seen me try?
I was raised in a household where, though quiet example, I didn’t really ever perceive limitations. My dad lacks fingers on his right hand and still drew architectural drawings by hand until AutoCad made that unnecessary. When he wanted to build something for which a jig didn’t exist, he figured out how to make the jig first, then made what he wanted anyway. My mom is one of the most humbly impressive people I know. In the course of making awesome things, she learned construction, small engine repair, dressmaking, embroidery, about every cooking technique under the sun, furniture refinishing and organic pest control to name a few. In her role as quality assurance manager at ET, she tackles new technologies on probably a monthly basis. When I have a question about a tax situation or a benefits rule, I ask her not expecting her to know the answer but knowing she will research until she figures it out. Not once have I heard either one of them say “I can’t do that because I’ve never done it before.”
When I first started my business I got a lot of questions from clients along the lines of “Well have you ever done this exact thing before?” To me it was irrelevant. That’s why we’re good, because we can blaze a new trail and never stop growing. Part of it probably comes from the problem-solving training you get with programming. Every developer knows that the problems you’ve already solved are old news; it’s your ability to solve a new problem, to do something you’ve never done before (maybe no one’s ever done before), that makes you valuable. But most people aren’t trained to think that way. They are trained to see what has been done before as a guarantee of future success. It’s comforting. But it’s also stagnant. It’s not moving you forward.
I still remember the shock and pain in my heart when I heard my boss’ doubt all those years ago. I took it personally – “It’s me! You know me! I’ve worked so hard for you – you really think I can’t do this?” I went into the bathroom and had a hard cry. And then we as a team pulled it together, killed our sales pitch, and won the account.
Since then I’ve encountered many situations where someone doubted me or didn’t think I was good enough. It stings at first, and then I remembered what I learned in that sales pitch long ago: Life doesn’t wait for you to pout. Dust yourself off and get it moving in a positive direction. If you’re not getting some people to say “I don’t know if she can pull it off”, you’re probably not pushing yourself very hard. Doubt is confirmation that you’re doing something interesting. That you’re moving forward. That you’re moving your limits outward. If others can’t see it, that’s not their fault. They don’t know the strength of your bones or the fire in your soul. But they don’t have to. You don’t need anyone’s permission to be awesome. So quit waiting for it and go create.